Spray Park Loop

In 2013 I did my first hike over Knapsack Pass to Spray Park and around a loop. We added a scramble from the pass up First Mother Mountain. Great flowers in late July. Janet suggested this trip. Steve chose to join us at the last minute. We met in North Seattle and hit the road at 6:40 am. The lot fills up early in the summer and we hoped to get an early start. Down to Sumner then up the Carbon River to the road up to Mowich Lake. In places we had pea soup fog along the gravel road. It took us two hours to reach the lake. We managed to fit in the lot. By the time we were packed up and waited in line for the outhouse it was about 9:00 am. The past few weeks we had been under a thick layer of smoke from forest fires, many in British Columbia. The weather finally was changing and we could breathe easily for a change.

Our route went a short way along the lake to the Ranger's cabin where we found the trail up to Knapsack Pass. It begins steeply as it climbs above the lake in forest. We quickly noticed that the berries were almost ripe. A little tart but not too bad. We soon saw a deer though all I managed was a photo of its rear. Small creeks had some small waterfalls. Monkey flower were blooming in a number of paces. Both pink and yellow were seen. The trail broke out of the forest and entered grassy meadows. Very scenic much of the way up to the pass. Two groups went by us. The first were heading for Echo and Observation Peaks. The wildflower show was past peak but we did see some magenta Indian paintbrush among others. Gentian is a flower I usually see in late summer and fall. It was seen all along our route. Some of the bunches were up to about 60 blooms.

Higher up we could see down to Mowich Lake. The last part is up a very steep hillside. The route switchbacks on up. There were lots of lousewort and western anemone. The anemone were already in their tousled mop headed state. We reached Knapsack Pass at 10:34 am. At 6200' we had a view of half of Mt. Rainier. A tall rock cuts off half the view. Unfortunately, while it was partly sunny overhead the mountain was very hazy. Perhaps a remnant of the smoke. We could see some snow below the pass but the route down was nearly snow free.We took a short break at the pass then headed down. The route is a very rocky trail. Care was needed to not knock rocks loose. We dropped to the bottom and turned right following below the steep slope.

The next section is one big boulder field. I like climbing through boulder fields. I made pretty good time. We climbed over a few high points and reached the highest. From here we could see the trail where there was dirt and grass ahead. The trail comes and goes. Some navigation skill is helpful. We reached some continuous snow and opted to follow it instead of going across more rocks. There was a set of footprints to help guide us. When the snow ended we come off right where the trail picked up again. We saw two guys here. Now the trail traverses and climbs up the ridge. At the top we had views to Mist Park below Knapsack Pass and Spray Park on the other side of the ridge. We started seeing magenta and red Indian paintbrush and more lousewort on the ridge. The trail quickly descended to Spray Park.

This side of the park is off of the main Wonderland Trail and not very crowded. The wildflower show was obviously well past peak but there was still a fair display of color. The lack of the best flower show also meant that the bug population was already in decline. No bug spray was needed in Spray Park. The edge of the park drops precipitously down to Mist Park. We went to the edge to enjoy the view. We could see back to near Knapsack Pass and up to the Wonderland Trail above Spray Park. It was quite sunny now and a little warm. Nothing like the 80 to 90 degrees of the past few weeks. We had part of our lunch and then headed on. The route soon reaches the Wonderland Trail. We headed left uphill a short ways.

Now we had even better views. Echo and Observation Peaks were right above us. It was still a bit hazy in most all directions. We saw one very big marmot here. He did not seem to care much about several groups of hikers. Heading down we passed a snow patch below the trail. One marmot ran out and spread itself on the snow to cool off. A baby came along. Soon we could see a total of four small marmots in the rocks near the snow. Many photos were taken of the posing marmots. Now it was time to descend from the top to the bottom of Spray Park. it is a long way. The park has several levels. Just below the snow patch we found a small patch of avalanche lilies in full bloom. They were the only ones seen the entire day. A few weeks ago there were thousands of them in bloom.

We took our time going through the park. The wildflower colors are muted this late in the season but are still there. It was 2:40 pm by the time we reached the bottom of the park. The trail drops quickly in a series of switchbacks. After seeing only a few groups on the way to Spray Park we saw many more in the park and on the way back. Still, it was not nearly like the crowds in peak flower season. Perhaps the threat of rain kept people at home too. Since Steve had never been on this hike before we took the short side trail to Spray Falls. The view has been closed out by trees on the near side of the creek. The water level was low enough that many folks rock hopped across to get a much better view from the far side. Steve went across but Janet and I waited at the creek. We have seen the falls many times.

once back on the trail the route back is all in forest. No more views. It seemed to have as much uphill as downhill the last couple miles. It also seemed to be a lot more than a couple miles. At long last we reached the trailhead at 4:20 pm. On the drive out we saw many cars parked along the road up to almost a mile away. Driving down the gravel road we stopped one time as Rainier had come out of the haze. It also had a big lenticular cloud over the summit heralding the rain we knew was coming that evening.  Repaving of I-5 has clogged all the north - south highways south of Seattle this summer. We took Highway 169 back to Renton and it avoided the backups. We had a pretty easy drive home.

This was a really fun hike in 2013 and really fun once again. The wildflower show was less spectacular but still pretty good. The bugs were much less of a problem. There were quite a few folks in Spray Park but much less then in 2013. It was a very enjoyable trip. The boulder hopping and snow travel, short as it was, was fun too. This loop is definitely going on to my every few years list. A very good time was had by all of us.

Mowich Lake
Ranger's Cabin
Deer Rear End
Knapsack Pass Trail
Small Falls
Tolmie Peak Lookout
Bigger Falls
Lewis Monkey Flower
Along The Creek
Pass In The Distance
Yellow Monkey Flower
Western Anemone
Looking Back
Mowich Lake Below
Half Of Mt. Rainier
Janet At Knapsack Pass
Hazy Rainier
Crossing Boulders
Still Some Snow
Janet & Steve
Lots Of Gentian
Blooming Gentian
Slabs & Grass
Crossing Snow
Colorful Flower
Spray Park Below
Lousewort & Paintbrush
Mist Park
In Spray Park
Steve On Trail
Avalanche Lily
Lily Against The Sky
Posing Marmot
Wonderland Trail
Marmots Cooling Off
More Gentians
Clouds Over Rainier
Lots Of Paintbrush
Bee & Paintbrush
Red Paintbrush
Cotton Like Flowers
Spray Falls
Lenticular Cloud
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2017